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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Sunday November 10 2013

Today being Remembrance Sunday, but not having got out and about during it, I instead looked for Remembrance photos past, and came across the archive containing these.

imageI was struck by one in particular, in which we see the phrase “To All Our Heroes” inscribed on a cross with a poppy on it.  That word “heroes” makes me slightly uneasy, especially in the plural.  Were they all heroes?  Similarly, the way all these dead are so often described as having “given” their lives for freedom, or for their country, or whatever.  It must surely be more accurate to say that many of these men were victims, and that their lives were taken from them.  It might be rather insulting to describe them thus in public displays honouring their memory, but maybe more accurate.

The cross on which the word “heroes” is inscribed is surely rather more accurate, as a description of what really happened, to most of these dead.  I do not deny that there were indeed many heroes, in all these wars.  But surely, for most, war, and death in war, were things they endured.  That is a kind of heroism, of course, but is not quite what is usually meant by the word.

I lost an uncle in World War 2, although it happened before I was born.  He was the victim of a training accident.  I respectfully mourned him from time to time throughout my childhood and have gone on doing so ever since.  But there was nothing especially heroic about his death, and that has just seemed to me to be yet further cause for sadness.  Many times I wished that Uncle John had died heroically, if he had to die at all.  But, he did not die heroically.  War is like that.

The cross seems to me to be a somewhat more accurate representation of what happened to these countless men than does the word “hero”.  This was surely more like a catastrophe which swallowed people up, in the manner of a natural disaster such as an earthquake or a flood or a fire.  Some who suffer or die in the course of events like that are very properly called heroes, because they did indeed behave, and perhaps die, heroically.  Most, however, are merely described as victims.  No disrespect is intended with that label, and I intend no disrespect in suggesting that many of these war heroes were really just war victims.  Their deaths are no less worthy of being remembered and reflected upon, merely because we describe their deaths that bit more accurately.

A lot hinges on whether you consider the fights and wars that all these dead people died in were worth it.  There is something inherently somewhat unheroic about dying in a fight that could not accomplish anything good.  Part of being a true hero is that you choose the fight in which you will risk and perhaps lose your life, and that you choose it well.

If anything in the above angers you in any way, the chances are that this is because I didn’t say it right.  I’m trying to say something that is somewhat hard to pin down, and maybe said it wrongly.  I am not trying to say anything demeaning or disrespectful, either towards the dead themselves, or towards the feelings of those who still, like me, mourn them.